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18th Nov 2015

Jonah Lomu’s touching gesture to ailing Irish twins marks him out as a true giant

Always found time

Patrick McCarry

Giant of a man, in more ways than one.

Back in 2001, Brian O’Driscoll reached out to All Blacks wing sensation Jonah Lomu for help in a charitable cause.

The Irish centre was involved with charities Operation Rudolph and Bubblegum Club and hoped Lomu could pay a visit to poorly Irish patients. Lomu obliged.

Aged 26 at the time, Lomu was at the peak of his powers. He was a six-year Test veteran with 52 caps and 31 tries to his name. Claiming the World Cup trophy, in 2003, was his driving force.

Two days before he lined out – and scored – for New Zealand against Ireland, Lomu met up with Irish twins Aoife and Jennifer Hoey, and their nurse Carol Kennedy.

Aged nine at the time, the girls both suffered from a rare lung disease and required several hospital trips each year, as well as home care. The girls both had parts of their lungs removed due to their disease.

Lomu posed for photos with the girls and met 17-year-old cystic fibrosis sufferer Matthew Cronin. That was enough, but Lomu stayed on with Cronin and the Hoeys long after his photo duties were over.

As the New Zealand Herald reported, at the time, the twins were convinced that Weetabix was the secret to Lomu’s success.

“Oh yeah,” he replied. “I eat truckloads of that.”

Shane Horgan and Brian O'Driscoll get to grips with Lomu.Shane Horgan and Brian O’Driscoll get to grips with Lomu.

Lomu was probably lucky that he had to go back to a training session with his All Blacks teammates as the girls had a trip to McDonalds planned for him.

“Carol said that Jonah would go into McDonald’s and ask for 25 burgers,” Jenny commented.

“Somebody else would come up to the desk and ask for a burger and the woman would say, ‘No, there are none left’.”

Lomu was on the winning side against Ireland on the November tour. He also won out against the men in green on two occasions in 2002.

A year after meeting Cronin and the Hoey sisters, however, Lomu’s rugby career was over.

He was 27 when he played his last Test but kidney troubles cut short his glittering All Blacks career. Those same kidney troubles were never far away and may have ultimately cost the great man his life.